First, I want to say that I am thankful for all the business/support that I have received over the years. Thank you to the businesses, family, and friends who have stuck with me.
I get messages from my own People asking me “how do I become a model?” or “how can I do what you do?” and of course I tell them what I can. But unfortunately, what I don’t tell them is the negative side of social media.
You see, I fell into this position of being a “fashion influencer.” You’ll come to know this is not what I wanted or even set out to be. I know what you’re thinking, well DUH that title explains exactly what it means. But even when I was first labeled as an “Influencer” my mind didn’t fully understand the impact I would soon make in the western community.
For me personally, the way I dress is another way of telling people (unapologetically) who I am and where I come from without actually having to say a word. I am a proud Navajo women from the Navajo reservation, this is me.
I decided to finally explain for my People what it’s like to be a Navajo women in the western community. Not just that, but a Navajo women who has culture and sacredness embedded into her heart, soul, and DNA. So here it goes:
Feeling like your mouth has been sewn shut is normal.
You’ll be afraid to speak out about issues that surround the image and concept of our Native people, especially in the western community. There will be times you want to address an issue, but don’t out of fear of losing business/relationships and even friends. Then there will be a time when you do get the courage to speak out and awake the sleeping giant.
Your tribe’s ancestral attire will be turned into fashion statements/trends.
I honestly can’t help but feel like I am part of the blame for this, due to the fact that I was labeled as a “fashion influencer” and I built an image in the western community. I’ve said this before, but how do we encourage and connect with our youth to accept who they are (through social media) and yet shield parts of our culture from trends or money hungry eyes? The times are changing and social media is a powerful tool nowadays. You will be angry and you have every right to be. It’s completely WRONG, but believe me and as some of may know most non-natives will tell you otherwise. Stand your ground. Our ancestral culture is not a trend to give you “cool points.”
You will see non-natives wearing Warbonnets/headdresses for photoshoots.
You will learn that pictures and photoshoots will NOT be the only place you see headdresses. Last year, I was invited to a fashion show in a big city and it was the biggest one I’ve been to outside of the reservation. I was having a great time and living in the moment, that was until I saw a model come out and guess what she wearing on her head? Yup, a HEADDRESS. I stopped and looked over at my mom, shocked. I tend to scan the room in new situations and I’m certain we were the only “brown people” in the room. Oh yes, I left my rez, but my awkwardness followed me and made this moment uncomfortable. I didn’t speak about it publicly and my first point explains it all.
The “reverse racism” card will be played and used against you.
You as a Native and a POC cannot be considered a racist. We are the minority and the oppressed. So please know that you are not a racist for speaking your truth. If you want, read this article about “7 Reasons Why Reverse Racism Doesn’t Exist.” My favorite points are #2 and #7.
Clothing companies will use sacred Native concepts for a profit.
Unfortunately, we’ve all seen this and you will think “HOW IS THIS OKAY?” Awhile back, I confronted a big western clothing company for using a sacred image from my tribe on a piece of their clothing. The items my ancestors wore is one thing but using something my People ONLY use in ceremonies (and only certain Navajos can do it) is going waaay out of line and into space. So what did they say back to me? They sent me the typical response, “We love your people/culture and we are honoring/celebrating it.” Not in those words exactly, but you get it. They also offered me a collaboration opportunity for a future collection. I hope you know how that turned out.
At times your words will be brushed off and deemed not worthy, unimportant.
No matter how you say it, respectfully or not, non-natives will never fully comprehend where you’re coming from as a Native. Sadly, some might not even care to listen or understand. At some point, you will be labeled and even considered a “bully” to some. Just know that there are other people out there who share the same beliefs that you do and some will tell you themselves.
There is a block button.
You’ll use this a lot and it’s only for the sake of your mental health. Even if you get a bad vibe from a certain page, block away. Intuition is wonderful, right?
Speaking out = the possibility of losing business.
You also need to know that speaking out could also attract other businesses who actually respect what you’re doing.
You will start to feel like everyone is against you.
Social media has its BIG negative, you might argue with people and it may even get out of hand. I am still learning how NOT to respond to trolls and I feel like that’s healthier vs. arguing with a brick wall. But you know what? The teachings your parents instilled in you will come through and it’ll only make you stronger to stand your ground on your beliefs.
We are more than tipis, scalping, “war crys” and all the other stereotypical concepts made by others FOR US. We are more than what you see on TV, movies, and pieces of clothing sold by non-natives. We are still here and we are often overlooked. Do it for the culture.